5 ways Whole Foods builds awareness on Pinterest

The supermarket chain hasn’t just created a few boards and posted a few pictures. It collaborates with other brands, creates content, and pulls in people who wouldn’t otherwise pay attention.


Pinterest is growing at a rapid clip, Michael Aaron Bepko, global community manager at Whole Foods Market, told an audience at Ragan Communications’ Social Media for PR and Corporate Communications Conference at Walt Disney World Resort.

From December 2011 to January 2012, unique visitors to Pinterest grew 155 percent. It’s got more monthly usage than Google+, Twitter, and LinkedIn combined. People spend an average of 77 minutes there, compared with 10 on Facebook.

Even with all those people spending a lot of time there, just jumping on and pinning pictures won’t create a vibrant community of followers and collaborators. You’ve got to do things systematically, Bepko offered, as he shared some key points that have made Whole Foods’ Pinterest efforts such a success.

1. Community building

Over the past year and a half—Whole Foods joined Pinterest in mid-2011—the brand has looked for ways to tie social media into some of its video series. Bepko specifically pointed out one series on urban farming and another about do-it-yourself projects using household items. Neither series focused specifically on the Whole Foods brand; each aimed to tie Whole Foods to a certain type of food culture.

Each project turned into a Pinterest board. The urban farming series became “How Does Your Garden Grow?” The other series turned into a board called “We’re Used to Reusing!”

Those board topics are intentionally broad, Bepko said, because they aim to pull in people who fall into all kinds of niches—craft lovers, vegetarians, gardeners, photographers, people who shop locally, and the list goes on.

“Once we had their attention, then they happened to see the other stuff that was a little more Whole Foods Market-related, like our recipes from our pages or, on occasion, a product we were trying to sell,” he said.

That’s how most of Whole Foods’ boards work, he pointed out. Topics such as beauty, strength, and books can appeal to dozens of different groups.

Also, Bepko said, it’s better to have a handful of boards that are full with content than lots of boards with only a few pins each. To determine which boards could work best, find the most popular topics via keywords. To pull people in, be sure to use hashtags and repin from the people you follow.

Here, Bepko explains that whether or not pinning is a good idea for a brand depends on its goals—community, collaboration and traffic are the rewards brands can reap.

2. Creating website traffic

Pinterest overtook Twitter as a referrer to Whole Foods’ website in December 2011. Bepko thought he should take advantage of that and drive people to the brand’s recipe pages, which lots of shoppers don’t even know it has. So Bepko created several recipe boards, all organized by season or holiday.

Recipes have been huge traffic drivers to WholeFoodsMarket.com, he said. The two most popular images Whole Foods has ever posted are recipes—one for spiced spaghetti squash, another for apple-slice sandwich snacks for kids. The squash recipe has been repinned 68,000 times, and it’s driven 44,000 views to the website.

Overall, 500,000 visitors from Pinterest have viewed Whole Foods pages 760,000 times. Of that, 80 percent came from recipes.

3. Storytelling

Each year, Whole Foods raises funds for the Whole Planet Foundation, an organization that helps farmers and food producers in developing countries through microcredit transactions. The goal of the fundraiser isn’t the easiest thing to communicate to busy shoppers, so when cashiers ask for donations, customers often don’t know what they’re donating to.

“That’s sort of the only opportunity where there’s one-on-one communication around the program,” Bepko said. “It’s been very, very challenging for people to understand what the mission behind Whole Planet is.”

Pinterest has helped cut through that confusion a bit. Using maps, photos of the people the program benefits, and pictures of the food they produce, people are learning about Whole Planet.

Pinterest users don’t necessarily engage much with that content, Bepko conceded, but mixing it with content they do love—inspirational quotes presented in an eye-catching way—has helped. About 63,000 people follow the Whole Planet board, he said.

4. Crowdsourcing and trends

When Bepko started a “Pins for Mom” contest to celebrate Mother’s Day, in which he asked people to create boards celebrating motherhood, he noticed that two kinds of content were popping up a lot: inspirational quotes and infographics. People couldn’t get enough of them.

So, for the next program, “Share the Buzz,” the social media team got together with designers to make some bee-themed images to stress the importance of bees in the ecosystem. An infographic called “Why do bees matter?” netted hundreds of repins, Bepko said.

Soon, Whole Foods was editing a lot of its existing content—photos from recipes, for example—to make it more pinnable. Adding explanatory text to a picture of ingredients drove huge traffic, he said.

5. Influencer outreach and collaboration

Pinterest is a place where people share based on what they love. That can make for strong connections, Bepko said, and not just online.

He said he discovered early on that, as long as accounts are following each other, they can add one another to boards as collaborators. Whole Foods has taken advantage of that in a big way.

A “Why Austin” board created in advance of the South by Southwest festival included 12 Austin-based brands, including Whole Foods, for example. With so many collaborators, brands “were just pinning left and right,” he said.

“Now, we work with [those collaborators] offline,” Bepko said. “We partner with them for events.”

Brands can start lasting relationships through Pinterest, he advised. Whole Foods’ partnership with Etsy began with the grocery chain serving as a guest pinner, for instance.

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